Starr puts case for removing Clinton

BILL CLINTON followed Richard Nixon and Andrew Johnson into the history books yesterday when the judiciary committee of the House of Representatives opened formal impeachment hearings that could culminate in his removal from office. They could, but - unless there is a sharp change of public or Congressional mood - they will not.

Thanks to the Democrats' unexpectedly strong showing in the mid-term Congressional elections two weeks ago, the future of Mr Clinton's presidency is assured, and the impeachment proceedings that looked threatening only six weeks ago now appear merely inconvenient, if not irrelevant.

Two months ago, when the report of the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, was published, there was a seriousness and sadness on both sides of the political divide at the President's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Last month, when the judiciary committee debated whether to proceed to hearings, committee members made at least a nod to the historical and political context of their deliberations.

Yesterday, despite attempts by the chairman, Henry Hyde, and senior Democrats on the committee to preserve the dignity of the occasion, the impeachment hearings were without either epic quality or gravitas. The high principles were tackled only in the testimony of Kenneth Starr.

In his two-hour statement, Mr Starr presented the best case he could that President Clinton broke both the law of the land and his oath of office to "faithfully execute the law". But partly because of his flat delivery, partly because Americans have already made up their minds about Bill Clinton, his arguments barely registered.

In its essentials, Mr Starr's case against Mr Clinton was compelling. His investigation, he stated yesterday, showed that the President committed perjury on numerous occasions both in his sworn deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and in his sworn testimony in the Lewinsky case. In lying to White House staff about the nature of his relationship with Ms Lewinsky, he had "concocted false alibis that these government employees repeated to the grand jury [in the Lewinsky case]".

Mr Starr may have been on more contentious legal ground when he accused Mr Clinton of misusing government privileges. But even if the perjury and obstruction of justice accusations constituted the whole of Mr Starr's case, lawyers tend to agree that it would be sufficient to warrant criminal charges.

Hearings 'formality', page 15

Philip Hensher,

Review, page 4